Recently, I watched the VH1 television show “Naked Dating.” During the episode, three women and two men (a third man backed out at the last minute), shed their clothes and hooked up. At the end of the show, each person was asked to make their preferred selection. Of the five people, two chose one another. The other three were not chosen. In other words, they were rejected. In all honesty, I was not able to watch the show purely for entertainment value. As a therapist, the majority of the work I do revolves around relationships and connection. I’ve seen many people with deep scars from moments when they have allowed themselves to be vulnerable only to face rejection.
Here’s the thing, vulnerability is actually necessary for deep connection.
We are hardwired for connection. It’s essential to our well-being. When we feel connected, we feel safe and secure. When we don’t, it leads to worry, anxiety, and we often question our self-worth. Connection is essential for our well-being. How do we build connection? By revealing who we are, authentically; in other words, by allowing ourselves to be vulnerable. When we become vulnerable with someone who responds with acceptance and understanding, we feel safe and emotional intimacy is fostered.
However, becoming vulnerable with someone who has a history of rejecting us, or with whom we have no history, is one of the most dangerous things we can do.
Sometimes, particularly when we have old relational scars, it’s actually feels easier to be vulnerable with strangers. After-all, they don’t know our “stuff.” But here’s the risk in that: Those who have just met us are not vested in us. While they may appear interested, especially if you are standing naked in front of them, there is little emotional risk to them if they simply walk away after the encounter. The amount of rejection felt depends on how much was risked. Sadly, as I watched “Naked Dating,” what I saw at the end of the show were three people who allowed themselves to be extremely vulnerable with others who did not earn that right. I imagine that they likely suffered the deep emotional wounds of not feeling good enough.
If you’re interested in learning more about the significance of vulnerability and the importance of connection in our lives, you’ll find there are several books and resources available. One of my favorites is Brene Brown’s TED talk, “The Power of Vulnerability.”
Jackie Dunagan, MAMFT
jdunagan @ GROWcounseling.com
Photo Credit: Emilie Rhaupp